Thursday, December 24, 2009

Story Telling Patterns

"Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs."
Pearl Strachan, author

Our stories either build or break down relationships with others. At work, we interact with colleagues and hopefully create networks and build alliances. Every day in your business, there are a million interactions that will create either a positive or a negative dynamic among people. While these interactions may seem small, they begin to add up to a larger pattern. We are either spiraling up or down. We are either building a stronger sense of I or a stronger sense of WE.

Building Stories - Two Scenarios

Storytelling, like the words we use, comes naturally to human beings. Stories are how we share what we are seeing, feeling, and sensing inside. Storytelling is, in essence, our view of reality.

Storytelling begins as an I-centric capability enabling us to state and often defend our point of view. In organizational life, storytelling shapes the way we view the world individually and collectively, and it can have positive or negative consequences for the health of the enterprise. Learning how and when to shift from an 'I to a WE' perspective in the stories we tell is essential to organizational health and growth.

We create stories based on our point of view-based on our function, our title, and our respective level in the hierarchy. "Where we sit" can determine "where we stand." Because we each see the world through our respective lenses of experience and beliefs, it's not hard to understand how colleagues engaged in different functions or operating within different environments-even within the same organization-can come to tell their stories about the enterprise from the vantage points of their own separate silos.


Imagine you just joined a new company in a new position, and you have been given the responsibility for achieving success. Your predecessor was unable to pull it off, so you have some extra pressure to deliver results. Imagine you accept this responsibility and start your job tomorrow.
  • What story are you telling yourself about this job, about your role, about what you want to accomplish?
  • What story are you telling the new employees who will be meeting you for the first time? Your staff? Your customers?
Imagine the following situation, which I'll call Scenario 1. As you do your due diligence and make your assessment of the situation, you uncover concerns that you didn't see before. The talent seems to be light for the task ahead. You sense that the resource base is also light, and you realize that the job is bigger than you thought.

The business problems also seem bigger and you can't get your arms around them. You are new and believe you are supposed to be in charge of the situation. You decide not to share your fears and worries out of concern that others will think you are not capable of being a leader or are unable to handle the challenge. How will the story you hold inside, and the story you tell outside impact the future success of the business?

Your Story: The story you tell yourself in this scenario is that you need to be tough, and show confidence. Sharing your concerns will weaken your leadership, and asking for help or involvement will weaken your power.

Their Story: The story your direct reports tell each other is that you are not interested in their perspectives and are a command and control leader. They band together and are fearful of what you do, lack trust in your assessments and resist your approach.

As an alternative, let's look at Scenario 2. You come aboard, do your due diligence, and find problems are more difficult than you originally anticipated. You immediately bring your direct reports into your assessment and, with open and honest communication; you create an engagement process to build positive energy and focus. You include others in discovering new and exciting ways for building the business. In Scenario 2 you are more open and transparent with colleagues, you express your desire to create sustainable partnerships, and you are willing to coach and be coached to help yourself and others grow.

Your Story: The story you tell yourself in this scenario is that while you were hired to be the leader, you weren't hired to have all the answers alone.

Their Story: The story your direct reports tell each other is that you are an incredibly inclusive leader who really cares about their perspective, wisdom and insight.

Telling Stories

We establish our power through our stories and story telling with others. Stories shape our sense of the world, our relationships, and our future. Stories communicate our aspirations, our hopes, our intentions, and our beliefs. Most importantly, stories convey the hopes and dreams we hold in our minds about the reality we believe we are living in or want to live in.

We tell our stories all day long. We tell them to customers, to colleagues, and to our friends and family. But the person we tell our stories to most of all is ourself.

Human beings have the power and ability to make up dramatic stories with any conceivable ending. Our stories can portray a future full of promise and accomplishment or one that is dark and empty. It's all stuff we first make up and then come to believe. Once we believe our story, we live it out the way we visualize it in our minds.

Like it or not, we are storytellers. Our main audience is us; and our life develops from the stories we create. In other words, if we wake up one morning to discover that our finances have been wiped out because we purchased a bad stock, our story could become that we are a loser and stupid, or we could tell a story of our ability to take risks and go after the Big One. Our stories influence how we see ourselves and how we approach the life challenges that come next. Stories can empower or dis-empower our life journey.

How are You Using Story Telling at Work?

Think about the power of stories to shape your future. How are you using story telling at work? Scan and monitor your stories and reflect on how you are using stories to either lift you up or push others down. Are your stories I-centric or WE-centric?

Are you using story telling to:
  • Prove you are right?
  • Build stronger relationships?
  • Inspire people to step into new challenges?
  • Break from the past and create the future?
  • Blame others and make them bad in the eyes of others?
  • Build people up and make them feel great about themselves?
Reflect on your story telling process and keep track of the themes that show up in your stories.

In the next issues we'll talk about the neuroscience behind story telling!

We didn't know if our ideas were strong enough of big enough, yet as we listened to each other's ideas, and became inspired by what others had to say - we did.

 Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:

Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose; and editor and contributor of 42 Rule for Creating WE, a newly published Amazon bestseller.

Contact: 212-307-4386


Are We Really Connecting?

Rituals for 2010

It's another year ending and a New Year beginning. My guess is that many of us would like this year to be a 'one of a kind,' and not something we intentionally repeat. Often actions with high emotion become patterns, which become rituals even without intention.

So as 2009 ends and we step into a hopeful and exciting 2010, think about the rituals that you would like to hardwire into your organization, and work on rituals that build community and empathy.

Here are some ideas of how to think about rituals. I put this together with Barbara Biziou, one of the founding members of Creating WE Institute, who is a ritual guru.

Healthy Rituals

Healthy Rituals that build community bring individuals together awaken the spirit of the team, and they enable individuals to build healthy thriving relationships. In this changing and uncertain time, our relationships are more important than ever before. They become our anchors in the sea of uncertainty, and help us quell the hardwired fear centers that live inside our brain.

Power of Relationship Rituals

Our research shows that if you are having an unhealthy relationship with someone in your team, the impact on you and others will be unhealthy - and the negative influence may go on for weeks, or months and spread to others on the team. When something is wrong in a relationship, the other person may tend to 'blow you off.' However, if you do have a healthy relationship with people, they will take the time to work through the difficult conversations with you. Relationship Building Rituals are the keystones to building successful business relationships at work. Connection breeds loyalty, trust and compassion.

If we do not feel connected to others, we won't feel connected to the job; we lose motivation and become apathetic. We check out, we give up and give in, and we lose our voice, or we get angry or resistant to change.

Pay Attention to the Meta Messages

Why and how do rituals impact the brain? Rituals communicate inclusion, acceptance, and send messages to the brain, saying: "you are part of the team." These 'relational messages' are non-verbal and could account for as much as 90% of the impact you have on others.

Notice the impact: our pupils will dilate when we are interested in something. Looking at someone directly can show him or her that we care. We tend to put higher trust in and believe more in these signals than the words spoken. For example, saying, "you did a good job" while scowling and rolling your eyes sends a mixed message causing a breakdown in communication, which leads us to distrust others.

Rituals You Can Experiment With: A Venting Ritual

When we interact with others, conflicts may arise - that's normal. Each of us has our own ideas for what we want to make happen, and when others disagree, we can get mad, emotional, angry, upset and sometimes avoid others when we can't find a way to work through the conflict.

There is an Ancient Ritual, which was called Stenia. The younger women got a chance to complain, and moan about what was bothering her, releasing anger and resentment they would have held onto. The 21st century version of this is called It's Okay to Vent Once a Day. Venting can be positive if it is done correctly. It releases stuck energy from the body and quiets the mind. Venting is the process of giving each other permission for venting time with others, rather than letting it go on forever. We can choose to vent for 7 seconds, 7 minutes, even 7 hours.

Releasing Emotions

We all have interactions with life that create emotional responses that often don't end at the time that the interaction ends. It's like striking a guitar cord. After your hand leaves the strings, the cord you've played continues to reverberate. Sour notes create music we don't like to hear, and we complain.

Here are the steps:

1. Establish a timeframe for venting.
2. Pick a partner that you totally trust to keep the information confidential.
3. Choose the role you want your partner to play in order to help you "work through it."
4. Decide if the role should be to:
  • Listen.
  • Listen for something specific.
  • Listen with the intention of helping you create a new strategy for reentering the relationship or situation with a fresh point of view: to re-contract, or reconnect.
  • Listen so you can give the person coaching-a new perspective on the situation.
  • Listen to help you interrupt a negative cycle you may be having and transform it into a positive cycle.
5. Take turns so each of you have a chance to be a coach and coachee.
6. Ask your colleague to try different roles to see which one helps you the most.

Healthy Rituals

Healthy Rituals allow individuals, teams and organizations to practice what we call "self-regulation," which doesn't mean suppression - it means 'self-expression' and that is healthy. Suppression is a form of holding in emotions - such as frustration, anger, disappointment. When we suppress, we cause a cascade of stress hormones to 'own us' - hence the term Amygdala Hijacking (Amygdala is our 'flight, fight, freeze and fear' mechanism in our older Reptilian Brain).

Creating Healthy Check Ins

Check in with people to create positive rituals that meet the needs of team members.

1. Ask for input from the members of the organization so people feel included in the rituals.
2. Be creative.
3. Listen non-judgmentally.
4. Be consistent, be mindful and be open to change.
5. Rituals can open the door to new behavior and pave the way for new business results.

Neuro-tips: Rituals enable us to meet the needs of connectivity, our most profound and powerful need.

Neuro-tip #1: When needs are unmet in a relationship, we become more emotional and frustrated. We become dissatisfied with the person, which over time will increase and can turn into dislike. (Shifting from friend to foe).

Neuro-tip #2: Positive mood states in one person encourage positive mood states in others. Oxytocin, a bonding hormone in men and women, is released during human contact, connecting and bonding, which reduces aggressions and increases cooperation.

Neuro-tip #3: Empathy for others is expanded through community rituals. Empathy is more than a feeling; it leads us to actions. By experiencing positive community rituals, we trigger our 'mirror-neuron' systems, which are located in the parietal lobes and prefrontal cortex. Positive Rituals expand our ability to empathize with others.

 Judith E. Glaser is the Author of two best selling business books:

Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization - winner of the Bronze Award in the Leadership Category of the 2008 Axiom Business Book Awards, and The DNA of Leadership; the DVD and Workshop titled The Leadership Secret of Gregory Goose; and editor and contributor of 42 Rule for Creating WE, a newly published Amazon bestseller.

Contact: 212-307-4386